In his video, Michael Goodwin talks about the freedom to fail, claiming there is a ‘mania’ for reducing the freedom to fail. Unfortunately, his position seems to be at odds with how the world works.
Freedom to fail doesn’t mean you must suffer horrendous consequences should you fail. It means should you fail you will not gain the benefits of success, that failure is an option. Mr. Goodwin seems to equate the US social safety net with fewer sparks of ambition. The US social safety net is nowhere near as effective as similar nets in most other first-world powers, like Finland and Sweden, yet those countries still manage to quietly contribute to global inventiveness and a healthy global economy with new electric vehicles, reduced carbon emissions and the giant Nokia corporation.
I agree when Mr. Goodwin says that social promotion in US schools is a problem; but the answers we have given students to date include extra tests and extra homework without extra attention or access to different teaching styles that may mesh better with their style of learning. Passing students who haven’t learned along to the next subject up the learning pyramid is a mistake. Not teaching them effectively is an even greater mistake. Matching students to learning styles would be considerably more effective and keep more students in school, yet we fail to do this at very high human costs.
When it comes to freedom to fail, there have been people throughout history who have had the freedom to fail without dire consequences. These people have been wealthy or have had something they could easily fall back on to maintain a reasonably good life. Benjamin Franklin had the freedom to invent due to his successful printing business. Henry Ford would not have experimented on gasoline engines without the security of his Edison salary. They had the freedom to fail, and they used it to help build the modern world.
Success brings its own rewards, including money, fame, political power, social clout and personal satisfaction. These are all potent motivators for improvement, be it from learning a trade, shooting for athletic stardom or working on the newest mobile computer. However, desire for success has to grapple with caution built from fear. People worrying when the next meal is coming, uncertain of a roof over their heads, or unsure of surviving to the next day don't shoot for success. They strive to survive. The only way they will shoot for success is if their fear of staying put is even greater than their fear of failure. Desperation is a merciless motivator.
We need a system where people have the freedom to fail, yes. But we also need a system where failure does not mean doom. We built that system in the 1950s-1970s. We should stop shredding it like we have been since 1980.